In Wales and other Celtic lands, there lies beneath the waters an ancient folklore belief that healing properties may be had from lakes and wells.
Clydach Gorge is one example of a place which is no stranger to these mythical legends and among the tales of witches, wizard’s faerie folk and nature spirits of the area there is more than one account of a healing well in the area where I consider myself to be blessed to live.
The roots of these stories may date back as far as medieval times and many locations have since been lost or destroyed and we may never know how far they dated back. Perhaps stories stem from times when folk offered gold and weapons to the water gods that they believed lived in these watery dwellings. Here I have found a few local places where stories are told…
The White or Sacred Well at Ffynnon Wen
Also known as Ffynnon Illtyd or Illtyd’s Well stood near Argoed Farm at Brythnell. People traveled to this well to bathe wounds and sprains believing they would be cured.
The Hill of the Cold Springs east of Cwmtillery is found high up on the brow of the hill. Here, the water was also considered to have healing properties, and people would travel for miles to heal their ailments. In the 18th Century, the local gentry and hunters would stop there to drink. It was here that Robert Watkin of Cwm Celyn found his mules after the local witch, Old Ann had cast a spell on them.
Ffynnon Y Rhiw Newyth
The Rev. Edmund Jones whom I have written about before here, and who was known for his belief in the Fae, described another medicinal well in his church parish.
“It was said that the well had performed many cures in times past and had stones put in it by some virtuous benevolent person, but it was demolished by a malevolent drunken man… The well is now deserted as if It had lost its virtue, which I am not sure it hath if people tried it in faith and sobriety.”
The Clydach Gorge Wells
The Fountain of the Stone Chest “Ffynnon Listen,” and the Cuckoo’s Well “Ffynon y Gog” in the Clydach Gorge was believed to have medicinal properties also. And, in 1780 Rev. Henry Thomas Payne described this scene at Ffynnon Gistfaen.
“ … I observed an old woman descending by a dangerously steep path from the summit of the mountain to the dingle.Where it was possible for her to do It safely, she stopped and spent a few minutes upon her knees with her hands clasped together, seemingly in fervent prayer. This was repeated several times in the course of the decent.
At length, having reached the bottom, she devoutly crossed herself, knelt down, and seemed to pray with great agitation for about a quarter of an hour. She then took off her shoes and stockings, neck kerchief and cap, walked into the water of the well, and stooping down, threw it backward over her head. Afterward she washed her face, neck, and head, as well as her feet, and concluded the ceremony by a long prayer upon her knees before she dressed herself”
There is, however, a much darker and sinister side to the watery wells of Wales. Many were also used to place deadly curses on people! If you want to read more about that, read my article here to find out more.